Hi there! Welcome to Arbogast Farms, where we raise cows, chickens and crops in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It’s a beautiful area, full of rolling hills and flanked on the East by the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Appalachian mountains on the West. We’re in Rockingham County, Virginia.
My name is Lauren Arbogast, and I married into the farm 12 years ago. I grew up in the city and didn’t know anything about agriculture! My husband, Brian, is a 3rd generation farmer. His grandfather started the farm with range turkeys in the 1970’s.
Like most farms, what we are doing is dependent on the season of the year and the weather. Today is a beautiful April day in the mid-60’s, and it’s time to harvest our winter crop of barley. To do that we use a large machine, called a windrower. It’s a special tractor that has a huge mower head on the front.
Let me climb up in and show you what the driver of the windrower sees!
Let’s get up close to the barley. Like I mentioned before, this is a winter cover crop for our fields. We plant different things over the winter, but last October we chose to plant barley. See those brown sticks I’m standing beside? Those are corn stalks that were chopped last September. We leave them in the ground, and plant our winter cover crop right into them with a no-till drill. This is a special machine pulled behind a planter that puts seed into the ground. The reason it’s called “no-till” is because in between crops, we don’t plow, or turn the soil over. We are doing our best to keep the soil ecosystem intact, put nutrients back into the soil, and prevent erosion!
Once we mow the barley, we will roll it into big round hay bales and use another special machine called a wrapper to make a long row of bales encased in plastic. It looks like a long, white marshmallow! We do this to keep air out of the bales so that the green, wet barley will ferment – which actually adds to its nutrition! When we unwrap the bales next winter, the cows love to eat them! Well let’s say goodbye to the barley field, there’s lots more to see!
Let’s move on to the chicken houses. We raise the chickens specifically for meat – they do not lay eggs. Each house is approximately 50 feet by 500 feet, and holds up to 37,000 chickens! We raise the chickens until they are about 4 pounds, which takes 32-35 days. But wait, what’s that?
Poultry houses, including turkeys and chickens, are bio secure locations. See the sign on the door of the house? Anyone entering must have on special boots, hairnet, and sometimes even a suit to go in. We don’t want to give the chickens any germs! Biosecurity simply means that we are doing our best to keep the animals healthy and happy while they are being raised for food. How do you like my hairnet? J
I’m in front of the computer in the chicken house. This system is connected to the feed, water, and temperature units in the houses. With this, you can see how many gallons of water the chickens are drinking, see the temperature in different zones in the houses, and even get estimates on the chicken’s weight! Well, since I’ve put on my hairnet and boots – want to go see the chickens?
These chickens are leaving for harvest today, so they average 4 pounds each. Inside the houses, they have constant access to food, clean water, and fresh air. They have heat and even air conditioning! Let’s go back outside and I’ll show you!
See those long black rectangles on the side of the building? That’s the equivalent of chicken air conditioning! Water trickles over the panels, and air is pulled across and down through the houses. Cool! While we’re outside, let’s look at something else. These large silver tanks are where the feed is kept for the chickens. When we get the chicks at 1 day old from the local hatchery, the feed in the tanks that goes into the house, down the feed lines, and into many, many pans, is really small – almost like grains of sand. It’s made up of corn, soybeans, and vitamins for the birds!
As the chickens get bigger, the feed pellet size gets larger, and the recipe changes a bit. There are chicken nutritionists that work very hard to make sure that chickens get what their growing bodies need! Hormones and antibiotics are never added to their feed!
Let’s keep moving around the farm – want to see some cows?
We have mama cows and baby calves on our farm. And, of course, some boy cows, or bulls. Say hello to a few of our bulls!
Right now is calving season on our farm, so you’ll see lots of mama cows with babies, or calves, by their side.
The grass has really started to grow around here with warm temperatures starting in Virginia, so we’re not feeding hay much anymore. But you still see it in the pasture, and the calves love to catch a quick nap in it!
Once the calves are about six months old, they wean off their mothers completely. That means they are eating grass, and no longer dependent on their mother’s milk. At that point we put the calves in a different space on the farm, called the feed barn
Once in the barn, we feed them a mix of hay, rye or barley, and corn silage. Remember the corn stalks you saw in the barley? This is what they made last year – a mountain of corn silage!
Corn silage is the whole stalk, leaves, and cobs of corn all chopped up into tiny pieces. We cover it with a large tarp, and it ferments (just like the barley!) – making a more nutritious feed for the cows. To mix all the ingredients together for the calves to eat at the barn, we use a large mixer pulled behind a tractor.
The tractor then pulls the mixer and offloads a little at a time into the feed bunk – it’s like a buffet for cows!
The cows that are in the feed barn get their barn cleaned weekly – that means scraping out a lot of manure, and putting in fresh bedding. The manure is stored in a barn until we have a lot, and then it is used as fertilizer for our crop fields. We also use the litter from the chicken houses (manure mixed with bedding) as field fertilizer too!
That was a fast tour! Thanks for joining us at Arbogast Farms, Flat Aggie! The next generation of farmers thought you were pretty cool!
· Lauren Arbogast, Arbogast Farms